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Georgia Tech Football: What Should We Learn This Week - Northern Illinois

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It’s the first game of the season, so there should be plenty to learn!

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Can you believe it? Georgia Tech football is this weekend, and it feels absolutely amazing to say that! Now, we’ve been previewing the team, throwing out hot takes, talking about the schedule, and all sorts of other things the last nearly 100 days, but today, we’re going to be focusing on just this weekend.

This will be a new series that primarily Robert and I will be writing, though we may occasionally have a guest along, just for kicks. Each week, we will be looking at three questions that should be answered in the coming weekend. So without further ado, let’s take a look at this weekend’s game against Northern Illinois.

Has Georgia Tech figured out how to contain a quarterback who can run?

Northern Illinois will be breaking in a new quarterback this season: Michigan State transfer Rocky Lombardi, who will be replacing Ross Bowers, who graduated last year. While at Michigan State, Lombardi started sporadically before being the full-time starter last year. And, he did okay with Sparty.

In 22 games, Lombardi completed 48 percent of his passes (159-for-332) for 1,902 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. On the ground, he added another 166 yards on 74 carries (though I would assume that’s including sack numbers).

Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that Rocky Lombardi is an amazing scrambling quarterback. He’s not. He’s definitely a pass-first guy. I would also say the same about Ian Book, who rushed for 46 yards against Tech last season. I’d also say that about Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec, who rushed for an APPALLING 94 yards against Tech last season.

The onus is on the defensive line and linebackers to keep Lobmardi in the pocket in this game, or better yet, to keep him on the ground. He hasn’t really blown anyone away with his passing or rushing numbers, but if Tech can make him as one-dimensional as possible, then I say they have that much better of a chance at winning.

Has the offensive line actually gotten better, or have we been all talk?

As you can expect, there has been a lot of talk about the offensive line this season. Jeff Sims spent far too much time on the ground last season (7 percent sack rate). Between that and absurd stuff rate (22.9 percent), the offensive line has plenty of room to improve.

I’ll keep this brief since we’ve talked about it ad nauseum this offseason, but Tech is adding some potentially serious talent to the offensive line with Devin Cochran, a graduate transfer from Vandy, headlining the additions. Georgia Tech also adds Kenneth Kirby from Norfolk State and Nick Pendley from Mississippi State. It will also be Year 2 for Jordan Williams at right tackle, so there should be some improvement there as well.

From here, we just have to see what they can do this week. Ideally, I’d like to see Sims stay upright the whole game and Gibbs to be able to actually use the offensive line to his advantage.

Who’s kicking this season? And are they any good?

So, looking at the Above the Line chart that was released earlier this week, Georgia Tech has FOUR kickers above the line. That makes a lot of sense when you see that Georgia Tech is 6-for-16 on field goals since Geoff Collins has been hired. To be frank, Georgia Tech hasn’t had a good kicker since Harrison Butker, so it makes sense that Tech is going to throw a lot at the wall and hope something sticks.

The likely starter among the group is Brent Cimaglia, who transferred in from Tennessee. In four seasons with the Vols, Cimaglia connected on 46 of his 62 field goal attempts (74.2 percent) and was perfect from inside 30 and a long of 53. He’s also made 88 of 89 extra point tries, with his sole miss coming last season.

Let’s take a quick look at what the other three guys have done.

Austin Kent: Kent has served primarily as the kickoff guy, but also punted in the Duke game last season, averaging just over 41 yards per punt. He has not attempted a field goal at the collegiate level.

Jude Kelley: Kelley had a lot of promise and came into last season as the starter, but then [Styx] almost immediately hit the fan for him. In his first field goal attempt at the collegiate level, the kick was blocked. He got another attempt later, which also missed. He also had a PAT blocked in that game, but managed to connect on his other PAT and field goal. Kelley attempted two more field goals last season and missed both of them, but made the other three PATs he attempted.

Gavin Stewart: While Jude Kelley started the season as the primary kicker last season, Gavin Stewart finished the season as the primary kicker. He saw his first action of the season against UCF, where he made two PATs. He missed one kick and missed a couple PATS, but overall had a much better season than Kelley did. He finished 2-for-3 on field goals and 22-for-24 on PATs.

While I don’t know that any of these are amazing options, I think Gavin Stewart is probably the go-to guy if Cimaglia goes down.

And to briefly talk about punting, David Shanahan will get an opportunity to show what he can do this season, though I’m sure Kent will get a shot here too.

What questions do you want to see answered this weekend?